Mt. Coffin & Columbia River - 23"x41" n-scale layout


Been working (slowly) on a 23"x41" n-scale layout based on the cannery industry along the Columbia River (Oregon) in the early 1900s.

Thought I'd share some construction picts since its start at the beginning of the year.
[The full play-by-play can be found here]

The layout started as a "chunk" from an old layout that screamed "don't chuck me out!" as I was staring at it in the garage.  I have a specific future layout in mind, and so I thought this "chainsaw" would allow me the opportunity to develop certain skills: handlaying curved & three-way turnout fixtures, scratchbuilding structures such as mines, canneries, wooden truss bridges, ore unloading docks, various pines, etc.

Funny how the temp layouts soon become time- & skill-sucks on their own!  The layout that was supposed to be done in a couple of months is now, after 9-10 months, almost 1/2 way done!

So bear with me as I post the construction highlights of the last year.


Mt. Coffin layout project

Here's the original piece recovered from the previous layout:

It already had that section of foam knocked out, but it seemed to scream "waterfront!"

And here's the layout design [or, the latest version] I came up for it:

[You can see other versions & other layout's I've mulled over here]

Was thinking "table-top", so included adjustable feet on the corners.

Planning on DCC, though everything wired for DC as well (a few sidings / spurs).

Initial layer of foam, supports for the fascia, roadbed:

Notice the space created for the NCE DCC panel.

And then piling on the layers of foam for the mountains, assisted by by 9-year-old daughter:

[Initially thought I'd have a storage track inside the mountain (thus the cut), but quickly abandoned that idea]

Cork roadbed, attached with caulk.

Although freelanced, wanted to have a few Columbia River signature scenes in there.

The Cannery:

The river-side trackage & tunnel:

Given the tight space, I handlayed the curved turnouts in fixtures of multiple turnouts:

And used "great stuff" to foam the mountains together:

[Great for simulating nuclear waste disasters!]

I would not use Great Stuff again: caulk, though it takes longer, is easier (after drying) to work with. Great Stuff is way more airy & files / shapes significantly different from the foam.

Had to handlay a 3-way turnout, and had to figure out how to power at least one of the frogs:

[the slide switches are gorillaglued under the styrene bases & stick up through the throwbars]

I'm now in the process of going back and rebuilding all my turnouts with slide switches to power the frogs.

Built up the harbor area with a basswood retaining wall:

And carved a stone retaining wall directly out of the pink foam:

Scratch built the approach trestle & howe truss bridge from basswood:

Finished (minus code 40 guardrails):


Also scratched a small ore/coal unloading dock:

Those are Randgust's V&T ore cars lookin' good on the dock.

Still need a crane / hoist & lots o' clutter on there.

Started scenicking in the gorge:

plaster rock molds, paint, dirt, ground foam, & pine trees.

The trees are Ace twine fiber between Michael's floral wire twirled in a drill, spray painted grimy black, & then hairsprayed with WS "conifer". You can still see the twisted trunks, but I need 300+, so only the outer trees will get real trunks in the end.

Started scenicing the main mountain / scenic divider:

And then got my daughter into making trees:

I figure she can make 5,000+ before she "earns" her driver's license!

Ballasted with cinders, then poured some tinted Magic Water:

Needed a couple of thin pours to plug up all the leaks!

But turned out fine.

Magic Water leaked (a wee bit) through blue-tape dam:

Then Modge Pod Gloss created the moving river effect:

Started building up some fab 20T coal / ore car kits from Republic Locomotive Works (have to modify a bit, as the kits are Nn3, but work great on N when done):

But, after reaming out the bolster pin hole, don't push too hard down on the pin:

Fixable, or will become part of mine scene as discarded car.

Trees, more trees, polyfiber, groundfoam, more trees, static grass, some chopped moss for texture & more trees:

JV models watertower, new weathered Ten-Wheeler:

Firewatch trail scene over tunnel:

Daughter doing switching ops before ripping out some turnouts to repower frogs:

Building single-engine shed with blacksmith shop:

Will have lit roaring forge & interior lamps when done.

On site:

Still need cedar shingles, forge, machinery & lamps.

At X2011 in Sacto found a groovy old Kato (C50) that somebody tricked out into a D&RG steamer, though still with whack tender:

Put in a decoder. Runs groovy. Will swap in an Atlas mogul or other tender soon (3-axle tender not happy with tight turns!)

Otherwise, here's how we're looking so far:

Feel free to add any comments / criticisms / etc. at anytime.
Always interesting in what people have to think / ways to make it better!

Thanks for taking the time to read all this!

Artarms's picture

very nice

Congratulations on a fine layout and some great building.

I suggest you include a penny in a couple of scenes so viewers will appreciate what you are doing.


LKandO's picture

You Are Blessed

To have a daughter that enjoys railroading along with you is a wonderful thing. I am jealous. And jealous of the layout too!


All the details:        Just the highlights: MRH blog

When I was a kid... no wait, I still do that. HO, 28x32, double deck, 1969, RailPro

Thanks! I am very luck to

Thanks, Art and Alan!

While my daughter helps out a lot (and right now she & I are in the middle of a "Summer Shunting Shelf Layout"), the real reason I throw her in the pictures is to give a sense of scale ;)

And if I place a couple pennies in the photo, I'll be able to get my two cents' in! ;)

I am very lucky to have such a groovy daughter who digs model railroading with her dad!

[we'll see if that survives the pre-teen years! ;) ]

Just taught her how to solder some turnouts:

Figure if she wants her driver's license at 16, she'll have to make X amount of trees and Y amount of turnouts to get it! (it's only a sweat shop when the garage door is closed and temps rise into the 100s!) ;)

Glad you enjoy the photos of my layout.

Will try to post more as I get stuff done!

wp8thsub's picture

Looks like fun

And the photos of your daughter having a good time sharing the experience with you are great.  It's nice to see a project with family involvement.

Rob Spangler  MRH Blog

You are truely blessed


You are a very blessed man.  My kids never had any interest in anything I wanted to do.

Your modeling is inspiring.  I kept getting pulled into the details and kept forgetting that you were in N-scale.

My daughter is 30 and married now.  So as a father who has been there - do yourself a favor:  increase your tree order to say 20,000 and maybe you can keep her busy all the way through the teenage / boys / dating period.smiley

Jim Dixon

more projects

I'm not sure making drill-spun floral-wire & twine pine trees and soldering turnouts is going to bump the social scene or prevent dating, so I'm just trying to enjoy the time while we have it!

Some other projects I'm working on:

Building a 18-ton Climax from a "Kato Kritter" chassis and one of Randgust's fab resin Climax kits:

 It's a good thing I got two Kritters when I did, as I pretty much destroyed the first: playing too much with the contact strips & cutting away too much to install a decoder under the chassis.  At least now I know what to do!

For the BMann Ten Wheeler, I reamed out a little more space in the front and installed MT905 Z couplers:

They just slide right in, and look moocho better.  I also swapped out the stock tender (with it's "dual decoder") for a Spectrum Small USRA tender with a DZ125 decoder:

The smaller tender looks better (IMHO) and the DZ125 performs much better, especially at slower speeds.

Above is unweathered.  Here's after a little bit of powder weathering & neolube:

 And here's a short video of dubious camerawork but it does give some sense of the layout as a whole.  Well, the waterfront side, at least:



 Never embedded a video before, so hope that works.

Still need a lot more trees! (and a firewatch on top, and a cannery, and a coalbin, and a mine, and.........)

Thanks for taking the time to check this stuff out!


"N" = normal ;)

Funny: I always thought "N" stood for "normal" and "HO" for "Horribly Oversized" ;)

My dad switched the Christmas Tree train from HO to N back in the mid-80s (which am now in the process of improving layout design & adding scenery), so I guess N has always been normal for me.

And while I do cast envious glances at the HO steam available at my LHS, I'm pretty excited about the many of the newer N scale offerings: BMann has really stepped up with the Ten Wheeler, 44 Tonner, 70 tonner, 2-8-0, etc., Walther's 0-8-0 is groovy, even Atlas' 2-6-0 & 0-6-0T can be tuned into winners.  The Kato Kritter (105, 106, 107) is a great base for scratch projects.  Republic Locomotive Works has great early steam-era N / Nn3 rolling stock kits, too.  All very exciting for N!

And as someone who's moved (on average) once a year for the past 11 years, N is a great scale in terms of having easily-portable layouts that still have a lot of operational & visual interest.  (Been designing quite a few, too, as you can see on my website linked below).

I just wish Atlas would get that Shay out again soon (and make it DCC friendly).

Full steam ahead!

tetters's picture


Very nice work.  The truss bridge is an amazing piece of work.  I am more then impressed at your hand laid turnouts especially the threeway.  I've built one of these in HO for my club with one more on the work bench.  In HO they are a beast, I can only imagine the effort to build on in N scale.  Well done sir, my hats off to both you and your daughter! 

 Shane T.


Jeremy Thurston's picture

Very Nice!

This is a very impressive layout!  I currently have a 2x4 foot N-scale layout I have been working on off and on for the last year and a half, but seeing this makes me want to continue building.  Your scratchbuilding skills and trees are beautiful! 


Thanks for sharing!


Jeremy T.

>> Posts index

MRH search (Google)

User login